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Could century-old theft explain mystery of gold coins?

By Dana Ford and Ed Payne, CNN
March 5, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "We vetted this long time ago," says someone assisting the owners of the coins
  • In 1901, gold coins worth some $30,000 were stolen from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco
  • Last year, a California couple unearthed a stash of coins that had a similar face value
  • "If this was U.S. government property we'd be going after it," a mint spokesman says

(CNN) -- Chief Clerk Walter Dimmick was convicted of stealing six bags of gold coins -- worth $30,000 -- from the U.S. Mint in San Francisco in 1901.

More than 100 years later, a California couple unearthed a secret stash of coins, with a combined face value of about $28,000. Most were minted in San Francisco.

Coincidence?

Sure is, said Adam Stump, spokesman for the U.S. Mint.

"We do not have any information linking the Saddle Ridge Hoard coins to any thefts at any United States Mint facility," he told CNN.

Eureka! Couple finds $10M in rare coins

The spokesman was responding to the latest wave of speculation that kicked off after The San Francisco Chronicle published a report Monday, suggesting a turn-of-the-century heist could explain the possible provenance of the coins.

Separately, Stump told the newspaper: "We've done quite a bit of research, and we've got a crack team of lawyers, and trust me, if this was U.S. government property we'd be going after it."

The coins from the 1901 heist were never found.

The so-called Saddle Ridge Hoard was discovered by a husband and wife in February 2013 on their property in Northern California.

Though the coins have a face value of approximately $28,000, experts believe they could fetch in excess of $10 million.

The treasure is known as the Saddle Ridge Hoard because it was discovered near a hill the couple called Saddle Ridge.

A golden mystery

The husband and wife were walking their dog when they spotted something metal on the ground. They dug and eventually discovered eight metal cans, containing more than 1,400 gold coins.

Restoring and cleaning the coins has taken months.

No one knows how they got there, or whom the coins might have belonged to.

Don Kagin, of Kagin's, Inc., is assisting the owners, who wish to remain anonymous.

"The best theory is that -- and this is collaborated somewhat with doing some research, title searches, etc. from back in 1800s -- that someone in the mining business, as he got his remuneration, his bonuses, whatever, he would take the gold from the banks and put it into the ground in these cans," he told CNN.

"Back then, they didn't always trust the banks."

Kagin dismissed the idea that the coins could be connected to the turn-of-the-century heist.

"If you had robbed the U.S. Mint in 1901, you'd have 1901, 1900, 1899 coins. But instead what you have here are coins from 1894 and before," he said.

"We vetted this long time ago. We know the story of Dimmick. The only thing that is remotely similar is the amount of value."

The coins, in $5, $10 and $20 denominations, date from 1847 to 1894. Many are in pristine condition, including at least 14 coins that are considered the finest known for their date and mint mark.

A highlight from the hoard is an 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle, valued at close to $1 million.

"Nothing resonates like buried treasure," Kagin said, as a smile broke across his face. "These are not just coins, but they are artifacts. They tell a story ... They speak to us. It's like holding history in your hands."

The couple is planning to sell most of the collection. Some will be sold on Kagin's website, but most on Amazon, probably in May.

"Unlike other hoards and treasures, this one includes a great variety of coins struck over many different years, and many of the coins are still in pristine condition," Kagin said.

"And add to that a wonderful human interest story: this family literally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

These coins could change history

Rare coin collection set to make a mint

Bought for $3 at yard sale, bowl sells for $2.2 million

Fisherman hooks statue of ancient Greek god Apollo

CNN's Dan Simon and Steve Forrest contributed to this report.

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